Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Public resources, personal agenda

The holding of press conferences has taken a different complexion lately.
When I was active in attending press conferences usually initiated by government officials and public offices, it was meant to highlight a significant public policy or a major directional development in the area of governance, or to receive a guest of national prominence.
But lately, the purpose of press conferences was reduced to becoming a forum for insignificant chit-chats, and personal agenda, and vendettas.
This was evident when Mayor Agustin Perdices held a press conference a few weeks ago.
The main, if not sole subject of the press conference was to announce that the mayor, was suing an Australian citizen for defamation.
Taken in that perpective, the press conference was perhaps justified as it recorded a "first" in the mayor's life---suing a journalist for the first time.
Perhaps, the mayor thought anything that happens for the first time deserves some pomp and ceremony, just like the first time that a baby could walk, the first birthday, the first hair-cut, the first graduation, the first piano recital.
So the mayor perhaps thought that his first time to file a case, by himself, must have a grand media attention.
So he gathered the local media to his office to make this historic and "earth-shaking" announcement.
However, from the media's perspective, is the "mayoral milestone" really that significant that it deserves a press conference?
I must tell that my uncle Peter almost fell off his chair upon learning that the mayor of Dumaguete was holding a press conference, the sole purpose of which was to announce he was filing a case against a foreigner.
"That's the only agenda of the press conference?" my bewildered uncle asked.
For me, I really don't take it against the mayor for holding that press conference.
The mayor is an influential and powerful government official.
He can gather the media in a snap, because the local media want to listen to what he has to say, significant or insignificant, mudane or esoteric.
Notably, to emphasize that the press conference was just about his filing of a case, the mayor had the media accompany him to the hall of justice so he could pose while personally filing the case.
I will have to say though, that the mayor took it to the extreme when he had to hold a press conference about a matter that many people really don't care about.
But that's his call.
My problem with the mayor's action is that he held a press conference about a matter that was personal, and not official.
The subject of the press conference was the mayor's filing a defamation suit.
Defamation, libel are laws designed to protect a person's PRIVATE reputation.
I read the mayor's complaint, and the article he was complaining about touched on his candidacy for mayorship, and not being the mayor.
Therefore, there was nothing official, or anything that related to public policy and governance in that press conference, except the mayor's personal hurt, vengeance, and rantings against a foreign newspaper writer.
If the press conference was about a matter personal only to the mayor, that did not involve matters on the welfare and safety of the constituents, why hold that press conference at the mayor's office, during office hours, and with the attendance of the mayor's subodinates like the city legal officer?
For me, that press confrerence was no different from using government vehicles on Sundays to go marketing or going to the beach, or to fetch their children from school.
That is using public resources for personal ends.
The mayor did not draw the line between his personal, from his official concerns.
If the leader of the city government has no qualms about using public resources to advance his personal interests, and for personal gains (what gain will his personal rantings give to Dumaguetenos?), then we cannot discount the possibility that other city officials will do the same.
Other city officials, and employees will just "follow the leader."
Can we blame them?
I am reminded of that city official who admitted under oath that he used a government vehicle to play tennis.
Do you believe in the saying that birds of the same feather flock together?
If mayor Perdices had to hold a press conference, it would have been proper and legal to hold it in a private place, say in McDonald's, Jollibee, Chiquiting's Scooby's, or if he wanted it to be more sophisticated, maybe in some fancy restaurant, or if he wanted to save costs, maybe in Ma Mia restaurant.
But not in city hall and certainly not in the office of the mayor because that sacred office belongs to the sovereign people, and it is an office for more important public transactional and policy matters.
I saw on t.v. the city legal officer attending that personal press conference. What was he doing there?
Do his official duties now include attending to the mayor's personal legal concerns, as against the paying public's legal concerns?
Public office is a public trust.
Public office is not to be used to advance personal interests.
As a citizen I demand that city hall, and the mayor's office, be used strictly to advance the interests of all Dumaguetenos, not as a venue for the mayor to demand apologies for his personal hurts.
Do that somewhere else mayor, please.
That is why our laws against graft and corruption prohibit the use of public resources for one's personal gain.
Section 4 of Republic Act No. 6713 establishing the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standard for public officials, provides:
"Public officials and employees shall always uphold the public interest over and above personal interest. All government resources and powers of their respective offices must be employed and used efficiently, effectively, honestly and economically, particularly to avoid wastage in public funds and revenues."
Next time, we hope the mayor would be more circumspect and more prudent by drawing the line between public concern and his own private concern.
Good, not crooked leadership-by-example is the key issue.
Otherwise, the people would not tolerate it anymore and will hold him legally accountable for using public resources for his private, personal interests.

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